Coronavirus Crafts: Paper Piecing

A few weeks ago, I discovered something amazing. Not eat as much as you want and never gain weight, amazing, but still amazing. Paper piecing. What the heck is paper piecing you ask? It’s a way to basically turn anything you can draw into a quilt block. Okay, maybe not anything. But also, maybe anything. I’m not sure. I’m new to this whole thing.

Anyway, I discovered the world of paper piecing when my sister suggested I make a Cowboys quilt as a baby gift for a family friend. I was going to do some cute little boy quilt with airplanes or sailboats, but my family voted and the Dallas Cowboys won (it pains my Falcons fan self to have to type those words). Then came the task of figuring out what the quilt would look like. I didn’t want to wuss out and just do blocks of Cowboys fabric. Instead, I wanted the infamous star logo to be the centerpiece and the overall quilt to be pretty simple. And that’s where I hit my first major roadblock. How in the world does one create the Cowboys logo out of fabric? There’s applique, but I have not truly ventured down that road and since my sewing/embroidery machine is due for service, now is not the time to hit it hard on the embroidery side. There’s just cutting the star and making it work. A possibility, but not likely to look very good in the end. And finally one morning, I stumbled upon the answer: paper piecing. 

I found a blog post about a paper pieced star quilt which led to an awful lot of other blog posts and videos about paper piecing. After a full morning of reading and watching, I decided paper piecing was 100% the way to go for the Cowboys logo. But I didn’t have the star pattern and the one recommended in the first post I found required some tweaking. So, instead, to practice the technique I decided to use a paper piecing pattern created many years ago by my husband and frequently referred to as his “logo” or whatever (looks like he knew he’d meet and marry a girl that would eventually get into quilting and one day need a paper pieced pattern with which to practice).

My husband’s logo is absolutely perfect for paper piecing. With the simple geometry of it, there’s no real difficulty in where to start and what order to attach fabric. I’d also like to note that a quilt made of blocks of his logo has been on my list of ideas for his office for literally months. In fact, about a year ago I spent weeks trying to figure out how to piece it together. I broke out the protractor and put all of my math degree to work before giving up. The logo was not designed with ratios or quilting in mind.

But back to the paper piecing. First things first. When you paper piece, you end up creating the block face down with the paper on the back. This means for something like my husband’s logo, the paper piecing pattern version of it is rotated 180 degrees along the y-axis (the vertical one).

Since the logo is a weird shape, I knew I’d want to add some border fabric to the outside so that the end result would be a rectangle. I marked the final shape of my block on the piece of printer paper. Then, I cut the pattern into 8 pieces along logical dividing lines using a paper cutter. This helped ensure my lines were perfectly straight and exactly where I needed them to be. I labeled each piece 1-8 to help keep track of their orientation/relationship to each other. It’s not immediately obvious to me looking at the logo where pieces go, so this labeling was super helpful. 

Looks like I actually assembled the logo upside down. Thankfully, its easily fixed by rotating the final product 180 degrees. Whew.

Next, I started with piece 1 and worked bottom to top. Then, for piece 2, I worked top to bottom and repeated this back and forth pattern for all 8 pieces. I did this so that I would be able to nest my seams when attaching the sub-pieces of the block to each other. Since I used an existing design and created a pattern from it, there are no seam allowances built into the pattern. This means that when I trimmed my sub-blocks, I left ¼” as a seam allowance on all sides. You can see that in some places I didn’t do a very good job of leaving enough excess fabric for the seam allowance. Luckily, this will all get lost in the noise when assembling the block, but is definitely something I’ll be more mindful of in the future. In fact, I found this tutorial and will use her approach in my next block.

Once I created and trimmed each of the 8 sub-blocks, I used the ¼” seam allowance to attach the pieces to each other. Nesting the seems proved very helpful in making sure everything lined up between blocks 2 and 3 and blocks 6 and 7. It did not do very much when attaching blocks with angled seams to other blocks with angled seams. I stand by the decision though.   

I’m no paper piecing genius and you can definitely see I made some mistakes with lining up my fabric. Fortunately, my mistakes are small enough that they didn’t require picking stitches and reattaching the fabric. They just ended up getting lost in the seam allowance, but this is definitely something I’ll need to prevent from happening in the future.  

I’ll be honest here. The block I presented in this post isn’t the first one I made. I mean, it’s the first one I actually finished, but I made quite a few pieces prior to this block. Along the way I learned some important lessons:

  1. Paper piecing creates a mirror image. To avoid this, rotate the pattern 180 degrees about the vertical axis.
  2. Stitches should be small and close together, but not too small and close together. If the stitches are too small, they’ll go one step beyond perforating your paper pattern and simply cut it in two pieces. This makes it hard to trim and add seam allowances later.
  3. Iron the fabric in place using a dry iron. Steam and paper make for a mushy mess.
  4. Nest seams of neighboring pieces by working top to bottom then bottom to top, if the pattern allows.

While I have a lot to learn and a lot to practice, I definitely think I’ll be doing more paper piecing in the future. Have you tried it? What are your favorite resources/tips? Post them in the comments. We can all see I need the help!

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